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In sports (particularly football), the knockout stage has a contest between two teams which comprises two matches or "legs", with each team as the home team in one leg. The winning team is usually determined by aggregate score, the sum of the scores of the two legs.

Which is the greatest comeback made by a team after losing its first leg with a great margin? I'm mainly interested in UEFA competitions and cup tournaments of top European associations.

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This question was a subject of much interest following Barcelona's 4-0 hammering at PSG in the Round of 16 stage of the Champions League in February 2017. While this question looks for the greatest comeback across all competitions, I focused my research on European competitions alone and it looked like Barcelona had some inspiring examples to emulate (although one of them is sure to irk the Barca faithful).

The largest margin of loss in the first leg appears to be 4 goals in Europe and it has been overturned in the second leg on two occasions.

  • Partizan Belgrade vs QPR, 1984-85 UEFA Cup Second Round (2-6, 4-0)

    In the first leg, QPR raced to a 4 goal advantage when they hammered 6 past Partizan in the home leg. In the second leg, their fortunes turned in Belgrade where Partizan scored 4 goals and progressed on the away goals rule.

  • Real Madrid vs Borussia Mönchengladbach, 1985-86 UEFA Cup Third Round (1-5, 4-0)

    In the first leg, Real were humbled in Germany falling behind by four goals. In the second leg at Madrid, Real scored 4 past Mönchengladbach, winning the tie courtesy of their solitary away goal.

  • And now FC Barcelona vs Paris SG, 2016-17 Champions League Round of 16 (0-4, 6-1)

    FC Barcelona started the turnaround from the 4-0 drubbing quickly, scoring in the 3rd minute, and making it 3-0 in the 50th minute. However after PSG scored, and time ticked away, it looked likely lost. Barcelona needed three goals to advance (two goals would have tied them on aggregate, but PSG would have advanced due to their one away goal). But three goals in the 88th, 90+1 and 90+6 minutes completed the historic comeback, appearing to become the first team in the Champions League era to overcome 4 goals. Here is the match report of this historic comeback.

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    One would note that in both those cases, while having this same deficit of 4 goals, the teams that came back had scored away goals, which in the case of Barcelona is not true. Therefore Barcelona need to win 5-0 (and not 4-0 like Belgrade or Real) to win the return game directly – Fatalize Feb 16 '17 at 14:05
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    Arsenal fans are just as interested in this statistic, as well, mind you. – JeopardyTempest Feb 17 '17 at 8:17
  • Add this: Conmmebol cup (south america), Final 1995, Rosario Central (arg) lost the first game 0-4 vs Atletico minerio (bra). And won the next game 4-0 and also won on the penalty shotout to become the champion. – gbianchi Feb 17 '17 at 14:11
  • gbianchi, I didn't add your info since it wasn't a European competition, but it's a good answer if you have the source to back it up, I urge you to make it a standalone answer. – JeopardyTempest Mar 8 '17 at 23:36
  • My apologies to Will (who fixed my edit quickly), yeah, mixing up Real Madrid and Barcelona in a couple spots may be the sign of being a newer football fan (and primarily EPL/MLS focused). Think a few fans might ring me up the flagpole for that if they could! – JeopardyTempest Mar 9 '17 at 22:34
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For UEFA competitions,

1 - 1961/62 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round

  • FC La Chaux-de-Fonds 6-2 Leixões SC
  • Leixões SC 5-0 FC La Chaux-de-Fonds

2 - 1984/85 UEFA Cup second round

  • Queens Park Rangers FC 6 - 2 FK Partizan
  • FK Partizan 4 - 0 Queens Park Rangers FC

3 - 1985/86 UEFA Cup third round

  • VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach 5 - 1 Real Madrid CF
  • Real Madrid CF 4 - 0 VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach

4 - 2016/17 UEFA Champions League 1/16 final

  • Paris Saint-Germain F.C. 4 - 0 FC Barcelona
  • FC Barcelona 6 - 1 Paris Saint-Germain F.C.

5 - 2018/19 UEFA Europa League third qualifying round

  • FC Dinamo Minsk 4 - 0 FC Zenit Saint Petersburg
  • FC Zenit Saint Petersburg 8 - 1 (after extra time) FC Dinamo Minsk

Sourced from this UEFA article.

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